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Hebron: Shuhada Street Demonstration

Shuhada Street closure.

On Friday February 22nd, the MPT team joined in solidarity with local Palestinians to peacefully march in demonstration against the closure of Shuhada Street in the Old City of Hebron.

Shuhada Street, which leads through the Old City center has been closed by the Israeli military to Palestinian vehicles since 1994 following the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre and completely closed to walking Palestinian citizens in 2000. The reason  for the street closure given by the Israeli military, common to the many other actions of segregation, "security purposes" while Israeli settlers enjoy unrestrained access to the street beyond the barricade. Shuhada Street runs through the Old City past the recent development and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements.

The development of these settlements within the city is a violation of the Forth Geneva Convention, Article 49, "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of it's own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Furthermore the Israeli military has been systematically coercing Palestinians who live and work in the City Center to leave the area. For housing, 42% of housing units have been abandoned and 77% of businesses have been closed,  nearly 500 businesses closed by military order.(B'TSELEM)  Again a violation of the Forth Geneva Convention, Article 49, "Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive." Only a few Palestinian families remain housed in the Old City with a few businesses still open. The streets are empty with shop doors welded closed with racist hate slogans written on the walls and doors by settlers.

There are many illegal settlements near and within the area of Hebron four of which lie in the heart of the City Center, some along Shuhada Street; Beit Hadassah, the first settlement in the center of Hebron, Avraham Avinu, Beit Romano, and Tel Rumeida. Many of the settlers in the city either squat and refuse to move from Palestinian shops and homes ordered closed by the military or frequently build additions on top of existing Palestinian homes. The military also conducts random searches of Palestinian homes, staying in the families living quarters or taking to the roof of their homes installing camera apparatus' and guard post boxes, which restrict the families from using their own homes or roofs.

Palestinian youth detained by Israeli soldier.
Rising early in the morning, February 22nd 2013, taking to the roof to see the situation in the streets below. An Israeli military officer standing outside of his post on the corner was detaining a Palestinian youth in his mid-teen years. I watched as the soldier held his identification and continued the detainment for over an hour without asking questions or checking any information. This is common practice among Israeli Military to harass and detain people whether they are going to work or school for an undetermined amount of time for no reason. We began the morning in preparation of the days demonstration against the Occupation of the city and the closing of Shuhada Street which was organised by Youth Against Settlements.
Youth Against Settlements Leading the Demonstration

Street Checkpoint
We walked down the hill and through one of the military checkpoints scattered throughout the City Center which separates the streets and neighborhoods of Palestinians and Settlements from the market place. Emerging through the shack with metal detectors and soldiers inside, now standing among a crowd of local Palestinians and Internationals preparing for the march to join another group of demonstrators at the nearby mosque. Two Palestinian youth raised a banner accompanied by the thunderous roar of drums echoing off the surrounding buildings, the march has begun.

 The crowd began to chant, "one, two, three, four, occupation no more" making our way through the streets as others joined in the march. The crowd funneled into a narrow corridor just outside of the mosque as silence overtook the scene when mid-day prayers began. Upon the conclusion of prayers, the march continued on as drums and chanting continued through the narrow streets to the closed Shuhada Street. Large stone barricades stretched the width of the street behind a very tall fence covered in barbed wire.

Flags raised as voices cried out against the street closure as a few youth climbed the tall fence placing Palestinian flags at the top. There were a few Israeli military behind the barricades taking pictures of the demonstration and making calls. The march continued on through the narrow streets of the Old city where all but two shops were closed for business. Looking above as we marched there were soldiers stationed on rooftops in small box outposts armed with automatic rifles. Above the narrow corridors where the economic livelihood of many locals once took place were tarps and nets stretching the width of the street to protect those below from rocks and trash thrown by settlers above.

The march broke off into two segments as we followed a small crowd lead by the Youth Against Settlements to a temporary barricade the Israeli Military had recently set up in the street. There were about two blocks between this crowd and the larger group who began to clash with Israeli Military in the small side alleys connecting the larger paths. This front line of demonstrators continued their chants holding their hands in the air, then proceeded to sit directly in front of the military barricade. The chanting continued as MPT and other internationals sat in solidarity with the Palestinians while the military fired tear gas canisters and sound bombs just over the group's heads toward the larger crowd approximately two blocks away. The peaceful protest continued until a large police truck emerged from behind the military and began to spray skunk water at the crowd of demonstrators and press.
Just before the skunk water truck emerged.
Just after the skunk water

People began to scatter into the side corridors seeking refuge from the continuous spray of skunk water covering the walls and parked cars while the military fired more sound grenades and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. The Israeli military began flooding the paths moving into more tactical positions throughout the City Center. The demonstrators began to make their way avoiding the skunk water and tear gas which clouded the streets.

 The Israeli military continued their 'riot dispersal' tactics moving to using rubber rounds to fire into the crowds of demonstrators.

Eventually everyone was forced back into the larger section of the cities streets away from the original point of the the demonstration. The youth began to hurl many stones at the Israeli military covered in riot gear and shields. The crowd and chanting intensified and people covered the city's streets with fires burning to avert the toxic gas fired from the Israeli military. Palestinian Crescent Ambulances were on scene carrying away many youth and press to a nearby hospital. Once member of Press who was taking photos in a narrow alley was shot in the leg by Israeli military.

Emerging from a street and marching to stand between the Palestinian youth and Israeli military were the Palestinian Police. They attempted to still the demonstration and push back the youth, to no avail as the youth began chanting louder and threw a few stones to fend them away.

Just outside a small path where Palestinian youth set up small barricades to block the military, a cluster of sound bombs and tear gas were launched at the crowd as we retreated to safety up a small side street. Looking around the corner after a moment of quiet, an Israeli soldier was waiting with his gun drawn and immediately fired multiple rounds just missing the larger crowd yet hitting one youth as he was running for safety. An ambulance was quickly flagged down and the military continued their assault as the boy was rushed into and away in the Ambulance.

The Israeli Military started pushing the crowd of chanting demonstrators farther back as they took tactical positions farther into the crowded Palestinian Streets. After a few hours of many stones thrown and countless  
ammunition and tear gas canisters fired, the Israeli Military began to pull back as the Palestinian Police reemerged in full riot gear. This pushed the crowd of demonstrators farther back away from the clash with Israeli Military.

Palestinian Police containing demonstrators.

Winter Team 2013

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